My Other Life with Julie Collins

PM360 recently spoke to Julie Collins, Director, Global Digital Marketing at Alcon, about hiking in the Himalayas.

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PM360: What made you decide to hike in the Himalayas for your first big trekking experience?

I was looking for something that really challenged me and was a little different from what you might think of as your typical holiday. My first thought was that I’d climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. And then I did the homework, and realized that was probably very ambitious for a first hiking expedition. So I looked for lower elevation and that’s when I came upon Bhutan, which instead of a gross national product, it has Gross National Happiness. It’s also an incredibly safe, beautiful, and unspoiled place.

Can you describe the hike?

It was eight days at roughly 11 miles a day for a sum of around 89 miles. A guide takes you through the tour and a crew cooks your meals and sets up camp in the evening, but it is very rudimentary. We were boiling our own water to drink and camping in horse and yak pastures. It was very much connected to the earth.

What was the most challenging aspect?

The complete foreignness and disconnectedness—we had no electricity or digital service. You couldn’t contact anybody at all. It’s you and your friends and your guide, and you’ve got to figure out how to walk, eat, manage the weather, manage the trail, and be very communicative and patient with each other. Because people have very different physical reactions to the altitude and that kind of trek. It’s a physical and mental exercise in every single step. I was very fortunate to not get sick. Also, the altitude sickness affects everybody differently. For me, it was the fatigue and the physical activity day after day because we did not take a day to rest. We did the full-on trek the entire time.

What about the most enjoyable aspect?

There were so many, but the most enjoyable would also be in actually doing it, in keeping a strong pace and pushing your body physically and mentally. And, of course, Bhutan’s beauty is just unparalleled. You’re putting your feet where very few people have ever put their feet before. Knowing I was part of a very small percentage of humanity that was ever in this area was pretty spectacular.

Did Bhutan live up to its promise of delivering happiness?

Absolutely, the Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is evident in its land and in its people. As we were walking through some of the lower areas, we passed schools, and the teachers would let the children come out and wave to us. They made us feel welcome—it was mutual happiness between Bhutan and America. We also had “dance night” with our crew where they shared their celebratory dances—and we taught them the Hokey Pokey. One of my favorite memories is the image of all of our right feet in.

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